Is Dana White’s Contender Series Effective?

Alex Perez - Contender Series
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JUNE 06: Alex Perez celebrates after his TKO victory over Jussier Formiga in their flyweight bout during the UFC 250 event at UFC APEX on June 06, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

When Dana White’s Contender Series debuted, it appeared to be a direct path to the UFC for fighters around the world. Unlike other major sports organizations, there is no clear path to the professional ranks in MMA. Regional promotions have long-been feeder systems to the UFC, but with the creation of the Contender Series, Dana White and matchmakers could hand-pick who could showcase their talents right in front of their eyes. With that said, as the fifth season approaches, has the Contender Series been effective in its short existence?

Contender Series Statistics

In total, there have been 124 fighters that have competed under the UFC banner after appearing on the Contender Series. The sole fighter to challenge for a championship is 29-year-old Alex Perez. Currently ranked #4 in the flyweight division, Perez is one of the most successful signees. His record sits at 6-2 in the UFC, however, Perez fell short in his championship bout when he was submitted by champion, Deiveison Figueirdo.

Fighters directly offered contracts on the show hold a combined record of 185-156-4 in the UFC. That holds a winning percentage of 53.6%. Fighters who were later brought into the UFC hold a 25-18 record, posting a 58.1% winning percentage.

The Good

Of those 124 fighters, only 18 have reached the official UFC rankings.¬†That number itself is a whopping 15%, but with that said, ranked fighters combine for an elite record of 77-31-2 in the UFC. That winning percentage sits at 70%. Currently, there are 8 of those fighters within the UFC’s top ten.¬†Unfortunately, those fighters are in the minority when looking at the production as a whole from alumni.

The Bad

Three of the Contender Series’ biggest stars, Edmen Shahbazyan, Sean O’Malley, and Maycee Barber have lost steam in their fast-track through the rankings. The same could be said for Johnny Walker and Geoff Neal. We’ve seen fighters bounce back from adversity and reach championship level, however, the current trend is not promising.

If you subtract the 18 fighters who’ve reached the rankings from the equation, the overall record in the UFC for Contender Series fighters is 108-125-2.¬†30 fighters haven’t registered even at least 1 victory in the UFC. 85% of alumni have failed to reach the rankings and 59% have losing records.

What the Numbers Say

In its history, the Contender Series has produced a large number of fighters that have continued their careers in the UFC. In hindsight, the majority of fighters have struggled in their post Contender Series careers. Marina Rodriguez is the closest one to a title opportunity as she is the only fighter ranked who’s on a multi-fight win streak.

It is a productive resource to find undercard-level fighters. It also has been an effective marketing tactic for Dana White. However, it has not been an effective promotion to develop elite calibre fighters. It begs the question, why?

One of the main factors on the cusp is the lack of experience at the professional level. It is not uncommon to see fighters with less than 10 fights on their resume debut on the show. There are exceptions to the rule, however, the more cage time accrued, generally means a fighter is gaining the experience to be successful.

With The Ultimate Fighter returning, it joins the Contender Series as a direct line to the UFC. Throughout history, there have been multiple champions that previously won The Ultimate Fighter. However, we still have not had a Contender Series Alum crowned. Will that change in 2021 or will the struggles continue? This Saturday, two notable alumni will be looking to continue their path to the title. Both Miguel Baeza and Augusto Sakai compete at UFC Vegas 28. Baeza will take on Santiago Ponzinibbio and Sakai will headline the card against Jairzinho Rozenstruik.

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